10 Underrated, Overachieving NCAA Football Coaches
Every year, salaries for players and coaches across sports are released, and oftentimes debates over whether or not someone is overpaid based on their body of work.
Not as much attention is paid, conversely, on those who are actually finding success on smaller salaries, especially coaches in college football. What you’ll find is, whether the following coaches make a few million per year or a few hundred thousand, their performance suggests that they are worth more than what they are getting paid.
The Google Fusion Tables graphic found below (or by clicking here) provides some insight into coaches' 2016 salary and their average wins per year over their last five seasons. The top 34 coaches (based on 2016 salary) are displayed, as well as other coaches with lower salaries who are featured in this list.
Note: Salary information is courtesy of USA Today’s annual list of compensation for NCAA coaches.
10. Bobby Wilder, Old Dominion
2016 Pay: $569,590
Average Wins per Year: 7
Bobby Wilder’s tenure at Old Dominion can be summarized in three words: architect, coach, winner. The Monarchs have only been part of the FBS for three seasons, and Wilder has been there from the start. While some programs jump into the FBS and struggle mightily out of the gate, Wilder has done just the opposite. He has collected 21 wins in his first three seasons, culminating in a 10-3 record in 2016 with a season-ending win in the Bahamas Bowl (definitely not a bad place to win your first bowl game).
For somebody who has built this program from the ground into a major player in Conference-USA, the $569K salary earned in 2016 seems like a bargain with Wilder’s success in Norfolk.
(Photo courtesy of Old Dominion University Athletics)
9. Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee
2016 Pay: $804,004
Average Wins per Year: 7.4
For at least one more season, Rick Stockstill will not be the only one with that last name on the sidelines at Middle Tennessee. His son Brent, a rising junior, will look to quarterback the Blue Raiders to another winning season in Murfreesboro, as the team has not had a sub-.500 season since 2011. The elder Stockstill has enjoyed an eight-win season in three of the last five years, and another strong campaign should put the Blue Raiders in Conference USA title contention.
His $804K salary in 2016 was more than $1 million below the national average, but continual success — on and off the field — will suit the Stockstill family just fine.
8. Mike Norvell, Memphis
2016 Pay: $1,800,000
Average Wins per Year: 8 (1 season)
Mike Norvell generated a buzz around Memphis in Dec. 2015 when he signed on as the school’s 24th head coach and the youngest in the FBS. Not only did he show his prowess as a recruiter — he signed the No. 2-ranked recruiting class among Group of Five teams — but he also put it together on the field as well. His eight wins in 2016 were the most by a first-year head coach in school history, and he also was the first head coach to lead Memphis to a bowl in his debut.
Norvell made just $1.8 million in his first year at the helm of the Tigers, and he looks to be a valuable hire — both financially and on the field — for years to come.
(Photo courtesy of Joe Murphy/University of Memphis Athletics)
7. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
2016 Pay: $2,556,877
Average Wins per Year: 4.33
Derek Mason’s time at Vanderbilt has been a roller-coaster ride since his arrival in Jan. 2014. While there was disappointment surrounding the departure of James Franklin to Penn State — Franklin amassed 24 wins in just three seasons at Vanderbilt, including a pair of 9-4 campaigns — there was excitement all around the program. Until Mason’s first season finished with a 3-9 tally. A 4-8 record in 2015 didn’t make matters much better, but a 6-7 finish last season that included wins against Tennessee and Ole Miss and a bowl appearance (lost to NC State in the Independence Bowl) is an intriguing sign of positive momentum for Commodore fans.
Mason earned $2.56 million in 2016, the second-lowest salary in the SEC (ahead of Missouri’s Barry Odom), but if he continues to improve on a year-by-year basis he’ll be in the conversation among some of the best coaches for the money.
6. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
2016 Pay: $3,350,638
Average Wins per Year: 7.4
The last time Northwestern put together consecutive winning seasons was 2009-10, and it looks as if Pat Fitzgerald might be on the precipice of turning this Wildcats program around. After not making a bowl in his first two seasons in Evanston and then losing his first four postseason appearances, Fitzgerald won a bowl game (Pinstripe Bowl) for only the second time in his tenure, and his 17 wins over two seasons are tied for the program’s best in said span.
His $3.35 million salary in 2016 was only sixth-highest in the Big Ten, so success is coming at a relatively affordable price for Northwestern.
5. Philip Montgomery, Tulsa
2016 Pay: Roughly $1 million (exact figures undisclosed)
Average Wins per Year: 8
Philip Montgomery’s high-flying Tulsa team continues to skyrocket up the standings in the American Athletic Conference. After posting just five total wins in the two seasons before Montgomery’s arrival, the Golden Hurricane have appeared in bowls in each of Montgomery’s two seasons, going 6-7 in 2015 but rebounding for a 10-3 record last year. The turnaround was capped off with a win in the Miami Beach Bowl (now the Frisco Bowl), the school’s first since 2012.
Montgomery announced in December that he had signed a two-year extension to remain at Tulsa through at least 2022, receiving what reports say is a modest increase to his previous salary of just over $1 million. With Montgomery’s track record and momentum at Tulsa, his Golden Hurricane will be causing damage in the AAC for years to come.
(Photo courtesy of University of Tulsa Athletics)
4. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
2016 Pay: $3,650,000
Average Wins per Year: 7.6
Kyle Whittingham started his tenure as head coach at Utah with not one, not two, not three... but six consecutive bowl wins, including the Fiesta and Sugar Bowls at the conclusion of the 2004 and '08 seasons, respectively. His team’s only bowl loss came in the 2011 Maaco Bowl (now Las Vegas Bowl), and he has since won his last four bowl appearances for a 10-1 postseason record.
He made a respectable $3.65 million in 2016, and if his hot streak in bowls continues, he might be in line for a raise in the not-so-distant future.
3. David Shaw, Stanford
2016 Pay: $4,067,219
Average Wins per Year: 10.6
David Shaw has failed to win 10 games only once in his six seasons at Stanford, and even in that season he led the Cardinal to victory in the Foster Farms Bowl. Shaw’s teams have won four of the past five bowls in which they have appeared, including a pair of victories in the Rose Bowl.
Shaw is one of only five current head coaches (Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Jimbo Fisher, Dabo Swinney) who have averaged 10 or more wins over the past five seasons, and Shaw’s $4.07 million salary last season was the lowest of the group (Swinney’s $4.42 million was next).
2. Dan Mullen, Mississipi State
2016 Pay: $4,200,000
Average Wins per Year: 8
The head man at Mississippi State since 2008, Dan Mullen has quietly enjoyed a successful run in Starkville. The former assistant at Florida has led the Bulldogs to a bowl in each of his last seven seasons, going 5-2 with one of the losses coming in the Orange Bowl at the end of the 2014 season.
Looking ahead to next season, Mullen ranks second in Athlon Sports' SEC coach rankings. His 2016 salary of $4.2 million was behind five other SEC coaches (four in the SEC West), but his consistent success will likely see him above his peers in the SEC standings.
1. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
2016 Pay: $4,422,700
Average Wins per Year: 12
Simply put, Dabo Swinney has been one of the best coaches in the country this decade. He has won 10 or more games in each of the past six seasons at the helm of the reigning national champion Clemson Tigers, and his teams have won their final game in four of the last five seasons. The only recent blemish to Swinney’s postseason résumé is a loss to Alabama in the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game, which he avenged in a rematch this past season.
His $4.42 million salary in 2016 seems enough at first glance, but in fact was only the 12th highest in the nation. When you consider that Swinney is a proven coach who gets it done from start to finish, there is no doubt that he is much more valuable than his salary may suggest.
Chad Morris, SMU
2016 Pay: N/A
Average Wins per Year: 3.5
Entering SMU’s 100th football season, head coach Chad Morris will look to build on the upward trend he established in his first two years in Dallas. Inheriting a program that was 1-11 in 2014, Morris has gone 7-17 in that span. A unique component to Morris’ style is found in his decision to recruit locally, only going after players from the state of Texas, a decision backed by his 18 years of high school coaching experience in the Lone Star State.
This past winter, Morris signed an extension to remain with the Mustangs (financial terms not released), reinforcing his commitment to the program, so it will be interesting to see how the team plays for their newly-extended head coach.
(Photo courtesy of SMU Athletics)
Joey Jones, South Alabama
2016 Pay: $525,000
Average Wins per Year: 5
Joey Jones has his Jaguars team on the rise, as South Alabama hired Jones in 2012 to be their first head coach in school history. Going 2-11 in 2012, while tough, was to be expected for a program just getting on its feet. However, he has posted six wins in three of the last four seasons, guiding the program to a bowl game in 2014 and '16.
Jones was named the Sun Belt Coach of the Year in 2013, and after making $570K last season he is a candidate to continue making noise at a relatively inexpensive cost.
(Photo courtesy of University of South Alabama Athletics)